Don’t get me wrong: Like nearly everyone else, I regarded Edward Moore Kennedy as the greatest legislator of our time — ranking right up there in American history with Daniel Webster and Henry Clay.
…You know, ordinary citizens could present a eulogy, as a group, at Ted Kennedy’s funeral, and simply recite the titles of dozens of pieces of major legislation the late senator authored and guided into law. Among them: the Voting Rights Act; the Americans with Disabilities Act; immigration reform laws; the Clean Water Act; the Family Leave Act; No Child Left Behind. (Well, some children left behind).
Then there was Title IX, which inspired the sports bra. And the 26th Amendment, which lowered the voting age to 18 (and which most 18-year-olds have ignored). Kennedy also cosponsored ratification of the United Nations, the G.I. Bill, and creation of the Interstate Highway System. Not to mention the Missouri Compromise and the Magna Carta. These last sponsorships have only recently come to light.
What’s more, Ted Kennedy not only authored these paramount pieces of legislation, he actually READ them before they were passed by Congress. Such cannot be said of most members of the House or the Senate, who have the barest notion of what’s actually IN the health care bills currently being marked up in committee. And who hadn’t the foggiest notion of the content in their financial bailout packages passed earlier this year.
But Ted Kennedy knew. He’d mastered them all!
Why, then, have I been relentlessly mean to the late senator and the members of his extended family over so many years? Well, because the First Amendment of our Constitution allows me to be a snot. A professionally snarky s.o.b. A small-minded meanie. In other words, an editorial cartoonist.
…And, well, because the flip side of Ted Kennedy (and so many members of his enormous extended family) was so darn flawed. Like the rest of us — only more so, and played out on the public stage. This weekend, as politicians, civic and religious leaders, and Kennedy family friends hail Uncle Ted’s profound achievements, and share poignant stories, I’ll fondly remember the Ted who wandered around the family beach house in Florida…sans his pants.
In fact, the personal failings, antics, alleged crimes and misdemeanors, and often just the faces of the entire Kennedy clan have given caricaturists and editorial cartoonists a priceless gift for two generations. In this regard, the Roosevelts, the Bushes and the Adamses just can’t compare.
So let us review, briefly, a cavalcade of Kennedys. From a caricaturist’s point of view, the family is hard to beat: those faces that scream, “Kiss me, I’m Irish!” at a raucous St. Patty’s Day parade; the bounteous freckles; the dense mops of wavy hair, the big and/or gnarly choppers fit for a horse…
There’s Patrick, who serves in Congress and wobbles a bit when he drives at night.
And Joe Kennedy II, who pitches heating oil for Hugo Chavez.
I’ve caricatured President Kennedy a few times, all of them long after his assassination. I was but a kid a couple of weeks shy of my eleventh birthday at that tragic time. I don’t have a scan of my best caricature of JFK, done for a book featuring caricatures of all the presidents from Washington to Reagan. I no longer possess the original, for that matter. But it, too, was irreverent. It portrayed JFK with a halo over his head, and a scrap of note paper protruding from his jacket pocket — scribbled with Marilyn Monroe’s phone number.
I can’t recall whether I’ve ever caricatured Bobby Kennedy. I did, however, caricature the late JFK, Jr., a couple of times. He has been the only Kennedy to get off easy. But, then, how do you viciously lampoon someone whose only flaws were being handsome and debonaire?
This past Friday night’s memorial service for Senator Kennedy was warm and full of great stories, particularly the hilarious sailing adventure described by former Iowa senator John Culver, Ted’s Harvard University roommate and fellow college football player.
My contributions, from here in the safety of my studio? Not so nice. But, hey, there WAS that matter of Chappaquiddick. It’s a scar that will forever color Ted Kennedy’s legacy. I agree with the armchair psychiatrists — that Ted’s negligence that night on Martha’s Vineyard, followed by his ill-conceived challenge of Jimmy Carter in 1980, set the senator onto a path of political and personal redemption. Millions of Americans have benefited from Senator Kennedy’s dedication to the least among us. But at least one family may not feel so moved by this weekend’s heartfelt testimonials.
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